Bérenger Saunière and Fulcran Vigouroux

Paul Smith

15 July 2015

On 5 November 1910 during his ecclesiastical trial Bérenger Saunière was sentenced to serve a period of penance in the monastery of Prouille, partly “for having trafficked in fees for Masses for many years and especially since 1896; he has requested fees everywhere and has obtained a very large number of them, the discharge of which he is unable to prove” (from the archives of the Carcassone Bishopric).

Saunière's defence lawyer, Canon Huguet (appointed on 15 October 1910), wrote a letter dated 2 May 1911 to Saunière while he was in Prouille. This letter amply demonstrates that no mystery existed at Rennes-le-Château during the priest's lifetime. The letter mentions Fulcran Vigouroux (1837-1915), who defended the historicity of the Bible and was one of the polemicists of Ernest Renan (1823-1892), author of Vie de Jésus (1863), arguing that Jesus Christ was an ordinary human from Galilee and not God. Both Fulcran Vigouroux and Ernest Renan were once based at St-Sulpice in Paris.

The letter by Canon Huguet below only refers to Fulcran Vigouroux in passing in relation to Huguet's sacerdotal activities.

French Original

Espiens, 2 May 1911

My Dear Friend,

Have no doubts in the matter – I enjoyed more than anyone hearing about the delightful welcome that you were given at Prouille. I am especially happy that the retreat didn't strike you as being too long or the solitude too unpleasant. Undoubtedly the thought of doing one's duty is a considerable incentive, but it's not always enough to stop one from getting bored or having to make sacrifices. But everything you told me in your last letter has banished all my fears on that score – I was even happy to learn of the various coincidences that must have provided you with a valuable distraction and made your stay more interesting.

My letter will reach you two days before you will be able to recite your Deo gratias. In spirit I shall be with you whole-heartedly and shall share your joy.

Last week I received a letter from the former curé of Fa. He reminded me that I had promised to come to Rennes at the beginning of May. He invited me, as a result, to go to see him, adding that he wanted to tell me about something that had happened. This poor curé's handwriting is so strange that I couldn't even read the name of the place where he was staying for the week. The first character of the letter looked like this: III, but the alphabet I learned at school didn't have this letter. Afterwards I suspected that it could have been the letter M, but in my hesitation I decided to wait until he had returned to Fa in order to reply to him.

In this reply I told him that my professional and social diary was full for a week (and perhaps longer) and that in view of this I would prefer to wait until the following month when I would be completely free and could then take all the time in the world to fulfil my various obligations. The journey alone will take two days, and then I shall have enforced stops at Montauban and Toulouse. This will give you some idea of how much my week will be eaten into. In any case it would be better to wait for a few weeks – that was the gist of my letter.

I shall be busy from the day on which I shall be able to organise the celebration of first communion. I have suggested to the Vicar-General that 11 June, the Feast of the Trinity, would be a suitable date. By then I'll be totally calm – I'll have the stress and strain of the Rogations behind me and I'll be able to take a break from my panegyric of St. Joan of Arc which I have to deliver on 28 May.

I forgot to tell you about the Passion which I preached at Nérac on Good Friday evening. It was very successful, and I found myself able to hold the attention of a huge (predominantly male) congregation for an hour and a half.

Here's my secret. For the narrative part I made a concordance from the Four Gospels, but the high-point of my sermon was this: during my studies at Saint-Sulpice I had the great good fortune to have as my Professors of Hebrew and Holy Scripture first Monsieur Le Hin, an Orientalist of the very highest standing (you know, it was from him that Renan got all his ideas, which he then put to scandalous misuse in his Life of Jesus) and then Monsieur Vigouroux. I therefore have lecture-notes from these two gentlemen, who have made several scientific expeditions to the Holy Land. I also have texts by the Church Fathers and the Contemplatives, which enabled me to fill in the details and provide commentaries which really gripped the congregation. Certainly it was down to hard work on my part, but also it was thanks to the researches of others that I enjoyed this great success. That means I'm half-lawyer, half-minister, and sometimes a theologian as well! So I do my best to dedicate my whole life to the defence of the Church.

On your return to Rennes please tell Marie that I'm counting on both of you to attend the festival of first communion and, above all, tell her how happy I shall be to have you visit our part of the world, which is so beautiful and so full of history. You know, one of my predecessors here was a nephew of Clement V, originally from Villandreau in the Gironde.

Farewell my dear friend, enjoy the end of your retreat – that's certainly the wish of your very dear friend

E. Huguet

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